Travel has a knack for introducing situations that provide its followers with the opportunity to face their fears. This is something I experienced personally when travel put me face to face with one of my biggest fears on our summer trip to Yellowstone: eating at a table with strangers. To most, I’m sure this does not seem like the typical adventurous pursuit of a travel blogger, but for a socially anxious introvert like myself who took 4 years to muster up the courage to eat lunch in the teacher’s lounge, it’s a pretty big deal. The opportunity presented itself during our stay at Cody’s Cowboy Village in Wyoming. After preparing continental breakfasts, my husband and I were faced with a difficult choice when there were no empty tables left for us to seclude ourselves to. My gut reaction was just to abort the mission all together and take our plates back to the cabin to eat, but before I could even make the suggestion, a couple of another generation invited us to join them at their table. To be entirely honest, I was cringing on the inside, but knew we had no choice other than to take them up on their hospitality if we wanted to avoid looking like real jerks. As it turns out, it didn’t kill me. In fact, it was actually pretty great to be able to compare experiences with people on the same sunset drive through the mountains high that we had fallen subject to. From that experience, a door opened for me into Travel101 and I continued to pursue the lesson during a recent trip to Big Rapids. I’m sure expert travelers already know what experiential and educational opportunities await them when breaking bread with strangers on the road, but in case more convincing is needed, I offer a tale of Thanksgiving.
The decision to pursue this lesson in travel came after searching the web for possible campgrounds to stay in while visiting Big Rapids for a homecoming weekend of our own. I was skeptical about whether it would even be possible to stay in a campground at all, since my expectations presented such a tall order. I began narrowing down the options by ruling out all of
the campgrounds that did not offer cabins. Due to the brevity of our stay, I wanted to avoid wasting any of our precious time setting up camp. When I’d just about given up on the search, I serendipitously stumbled upon Bluegill Lake Family Camping Resort. Not only did they offer cabins, but the cabins also had porches overlooking the lake. That was enough for me to seal the deal, but the more I explored the website, the better this choice became. Every weekend offers a different theme and if there is one thing I can appreciate it’s a themed weekend. The scheduled theme for the weekend of our getaway was the Autumn Harvest Fest. The camp offers a seasonal potluck dinner where they supply the turkey and guests each bring a side. I was instantly reminded of the experience in Cody and knew this needed to make its way on to our itinerary. Fearing the disappointment of needing to come up with a plan B if the campground was full, we immediately called and were fortunate enough to be able to book our stay.
My initial excitement for the event was no match for my social anxiety when it came time to actually make our way to the activity hall for the meal. I was nervous and my mind was racing with all the possibilities for social awkwardness that could result from interacting with strangers. Before I knew it, somehow I’d mustered up the courage to leave the comforts of the cabin, and was now sitting at a table with complete strangers waiting for the meal to start. Food was the perfect icebreaker. Serving a traditional Thanksgiving meal helped ignite the conversation, opening the door for people to begin sharing and comparing family holiday food traditions and recipes. At risk of offending several cooks in the family, I also have to say that this was
in fact the best Thanksgiving turkey I’ve ever had. I’m typically very picky when it comes to my Thanksgiving turkey and sometimes avoid eating the turkey
part of the meal all together. According to my tastes, it has to be dark meat because I’m disgusted by gravy and without it white meat is just too dry. The Autumn Harvest Fest turkey serving as further evidence of the unexpected discoveries that await you when dining with strangers.
The last of the rewards that came from this extended lesson in travel etiquette was the after-meal conversation. Traditionally, Thanksgiving dinner is a time most families avoid serious topics of conversation like politics or sharing positions on other worldly affairs. However, when eating with strangers, there is less pressure for those beliefs to be the same, creating an opportunity for great open-minded discussion and captivating storytelling (that you’re actually hearing for the first time). Of course I took on my traditional role of silent observer, absorbing as much of the conversation as I could. Although I believe in the motto: what’s said at the dinner table stays at the dinner table, I don’t think it’s breaking that rule to paint a vague picture. With topics ranging from Common Core, to generational positions on the pros and cons to technological advancements, I felt like I was living my own episode of Survivor: Gen. X vs. Millennials. If I was meant to represent the Millennials, I’m sure I’m a poor choice as spokesperson since I often relate to concerns expressed by other generations of diminishing work ethic. Even though the names Trump and Clinton were never mentioned, political discussion took the form of discussing stances on issues related to employment and education. With the bonds of family, there was more of an effort to listen and understand each other, instead of criticize or feud.
All in all, it was the kind of conversation that keeps you lingering at the diner table long after the food is gone. Despite controversy surrounding the hypocrisy of the historical origin of Thanksgiving, the lesson of the story is still an important one (even if the story is a bit murkier in reality). If you can embrace the experience with an open mind, there is a lot to be thankful for when sharing a meal with strangers.